Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Avebury, Wiltshire

Marking time 

A refreshing if cold winter morning walking around the great stone circle at Avebury brought many pleasures, as it always does. The site was empty enough for us to take in the stones as individual objects, their chipped and pitted surfaces periodically lit up by the sun, and one could also enjoy the great sweeping arcs of the stones and earthworks – we were reminded yet again how much sheer work must have gone into the shifting of earth with wooden or antler shovels thousands of years ago.

Avebury also brings incidental pleasures. This is the Alexander Keiller Museum, named for and founded by the man who excavated in and around Avebury in the 1930s (funding the work with money that came from his family’s business making jam and marmalade). The museum is housed in a building that started out as the stables for nearby Avebury Manor, a structure variously dated to the 17th and 18th centuries. Like a lot of Avebury, it is built of the same hard sarsen stone as the standing stones themselves – tough stuff that’s generally used in large blocks, cutting it without modern machinery being extremely heavy work. The largest blocks here are the single stones used as lintels for the doors and windows.

The chunky look of the stone walls is beautifully offset by the treatment of this end gable, which metamorphoses into a clock tower and ends in a delicate hexagonal bell turret. I don’t know how long the carpentry work of the turret has been there, but its turned shafts and rounded arches certainly don’t look out of place on a 17th-century building, and whoever renewed them has produced something in what feels to me a fitting style. The clock face has gilded numerals and central sun rays that seem to belong in an earlier era too. It seems right, the horses having vacated the building, that it found a new and continuing use housing relics and records of Avebury’s history and excavation.* 

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* The museum was not open when I was recently at Avebury, due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, but the site is open as always and the National Trust’s café was doing a good job of offering a safe and distanced service, with tables outdoors for those dressed for winter as well as tables inside.


Hels said...

The village of Avebury is very very small, isn't it? So I was rather surprised to see the Museum. How appropriate is it that the museum is in the stone stables of Avebury Manor. The National Trust Café is lovely, but the Red Lion Pub is amazing.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Helen. Yes, Avebury is very small, and this building is very close to the other National Trust facilities, including the café and a barn that contains another museum about the site. I think bnoth the National Trust and English Heritage websites give more information about both the prehistoric remains and the two museums.